How to: Buying a Sword in Wudang Mountain

Ever since the phenomenal success of Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, awareness of both China’s wuxia genre of films (HeroHouse of Flying Daggers) and of Wudang Mountain (Wudang Shan) itself have increased significantly. And each year, the amount of tourists visiting Wudang Shan increases by about 200,000, and with them come dreams of wielding a sword and flying through the trees.

With a few years’ practice at a local school, double-sworded back flips through bamboo stands might actually be achievable. For those of us limited to awkward kicks in pleated pants, those fantastic leaps will probably start with a less-than-spectacular hop, and reach their gravity-defying apex only in the mind’s eye (with an accompanying Bruce Lee-like shriek to add some stage-worthy ferocity). Fortunately, in Wudang Mountain, there are swords available for those who are mighty warriors both in fact, and fantasy.

The Chinese, ever the keen entrepreneurs, have capitalized on Wudang’s rising popularity by opening a myriad of shops offering a bedazzling variety of blades, for both martial arts practitioners and tourists alike. The trick is finding the right blade for you and knowing just how to haggle.

How to Find a Good Sword on Wudang Mountain

If you are among the growing ranks of visitors coming to Wudang Shan to enroll in a kung fu school and learn the traditional arts taught there, you will need to know much more about swords than those whose aspirations amount to a weekend tour and nice pictures. First of all, you need to be able to distinguish between display swords, like these:

and practice swords, like these:

The differences are subtle, but easily perceived by the trained eye. The simplest way to differentiate the two is by looking at the hilt. If it is bulky and ornate, as in the display swords pictured above, the blade won’t be any good to you as it will not be properly balanced. To balance a sword, extend two fingers and lay the sword across them just where the blade reaches the hilt, though your fingers should not touch the hilt itself. If it tilts to one side or the other, give it a pass.

The next thing to look out for is craftsmanship. The blade should not be simply set into the hilt, rather the entire sword should be one piece of metal with the handle built around it. The easiest way to perceive this is by handling the sword. If, when turning the sword, you feel a slight dislocation between the parts, it’s a sure sign the blade is not integral to the entire sword.

Finally, the last criterion to examine is length. With your arm pointing directly downwards, hold the sword in a reverse grip, pointing up behind your arm towards the side of your head. The sword should come up an inch or so below your ear. If it comes up to your ear, it is too long, and you might cut yourself while maneuvering during sword practice.

All other swords fit into the broad category of display swords. If this is what you are buying, never give in to fancy and swing your blade with force, and make sure never to strike it against another object as the blade could come loose and cause serious injuries.

If you are lucky enough to visit Wudang Shan, you will inevitably notice the ridiculous profusion of sword shops not just in Wudangshan City, but up at the village near Nanyan Temple. This means competition and the possibility of great bargains. However, salespeople are keenly aware of this fact and start with astronomical opening prices. As a rule, never, ever pay more than half the opening price. If you’re paying between a quarter and a third of the opening price, you’ve got yourself a fair deal (what a local would pay).

Now fully trained in the art of sword purchasing, all that seperates you from a date with your (imaginary) nemesis is a trip to Wudang Shan.

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